Stories For Chip
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
This is billed as a tribute to Samuel R. Delany, and as such it is only partially successful. A collection that includes thirty-two entries was bound to be uneven, with a couple of brilliant gems along with some not worth finishing, in my opinion at least. Several aren't even remotely SF or fantasy, but one of those is among the best. With just a few exceptions, the stories don't have much of a connection to Chip's own work, either in style or content. That was probably not the intent, as Kim Stanley Robinson's introduction states it might have failed if they had tried to produce Delanyesque pastiches. Instead we get a look at how other writers took his encouraging optimism to shape their own work and world view. Delany was as much an innovative stylist as he was a world-builder, and more concerned with his characters' minds and bodies as he was the worlds they inhabited. He is mentioned in quite a few of the stories, either as a fictional character or other characters talking about reading or having read some of his books, but there are only a couple of them that I felt could have found a place inside one of Chip's creations. Those would be Nick Harkaway's "Billy Tumult," reminiscent of scenes from The Einstein Intersection, and "Song for the Asking" by Carmelo Rafala, which evoked memories of The Jewels of Aptor.
I read a poorly prepared ARC (advance reader copy) in e-book format, provided by the publisher through NetGalley.com. This was the first title I received from them; hopefully others won't have the same problems. There were multiple typos, with the major difficulty coming from "wholelinesoftextwithnospacesbetweenthewords." In most instances it was easy enough to decipher, although a couple of stories included fabricated words unique to the culture in which the stories were set. One of the better stories, "Heart of Brass" by Alex Jennings, was still a bit confusing due to formatting issues, especially concerning several randomly placed flashback scenes. It might be the author's approved version, but I can't be sure unless I read the official publication. Using Amazon's "Look Inside" feature, I see concluding sections about the authors and editors, along with acknowledgments for the stories themselves. Those are missing from my copy, so I am not sure of the copyright date for all of them. For instance, there is a story from Thomas M. Disch, who died in 2008. For those that might be new and commissioned for this anthology, several are good enough to be in consideration for a Hugo or Nebula next year, including three non-fiction essays, which for me were among the highlights. Isiah Lavender III tells of how his encounters with Delany shaped his interest in studying race and racism in SF, and Walidah Imarisha tells of her two different meetings with Delany, and how he opened up the world of dreaming the future for other people of color. Best of all though, and a piece that presented information previously unknown to me, L. Timmel Duchamp cites many of Delany's critical writings which championed feminism in SF.
I've read quite a bit of Delany's fiction (maybe half) but little of his non-fiction, and none of his later work which has been described as approaching pornography. If I had, several of these stories might be judged to be close to that later style. Haralambi Markov's "Holding Hands With Monsters" is more of a psychological horror story, very well written, but also very disturbing, with depictions of graphic sex (or maybe just dreams of graphic sex). Others include gay characters, either fictionalized depictions of Delany or other unique individuals. That is to be expected in a book dedicated to him, but most of those aren't among the better ones. I'm not sure where I would rank Markov's story, but it would be in the upper tier, so assume it's in the middle of the following list. My opinion would likely change if I re-read them, but for now the first two on the list are my favorites, with the others merely in the order they appear in the book.
Jamaica Ginger - Nalo Hopkinson and Nisi Shawl
The Last Dying Man - Geentajali Dighe
Clarity - Anil Menon
For Sale: Fantasy Coffin (Ababuo Need Not Apply) - Chesya Burke
Song for the Asking - Carmelo Rafala
Heart of Brass - Alex Jennings
Nilda - Juno Diaz
Haunt-Type Experience - Roz Clarke
Hamlet's Ghost Sighted in Frontenac, KS - Vincent Czyz
Festival - Christopher Brown
Along with the essays and other stories mentioned, that leaves almost twenty I felt were weak. Again, that is just my opinion; others will likely list their preferences in a different order, including some I have dismissed. In any case, this is still a significant book, especially if it brings Delany to the attention of those who have yet to read him, as well as to reinforce his importance to those already familiar with him. That importance is not just in the realm of fiction, SF or otherwise, but also to the world of literary criticism and social consciousness. It gets my recommendation and I hope it's a big seller.
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